The Twelfth Sunday of Pentecost – Sunday, August 12, 2018

August 12, 2018  
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John 3:35, 41-51

Weeks ago, when I was preparing the service for today I ran across a quote that seems to have gotten stuck in my thinking. Attributed to Martin Luther, the quote is

We are all mere beggars showing other beggars where to find bread.

This operates on so many levels…
There’s the bread that we eat.
There’s the “bread” that, back when I was growing up, was slang for money.
“Bread” can mean that which sustains us, physically or spiritually.

Jesus said “I AM the bread of life” (John 6:35).

Are we begging for food?
Are we begging for money?
Are we begging for that which sustains us?
Are we begging for Jesus? Not on behalf of Jesus but for Jesus—to have Jesus.

Do we want to answer yes to one of those questions, to two of those questions, to all of those questions? Our answers will vary but the truth is, we need all of those things, in varying amounts.

We are all mere beggars showing other beggars where to find bread.

When Jesus said “I AM the bread of life, he had already fed 5,000 with a few loaves of bread and some fish. He had already walked on water, terrifying his disciples and yet calming the storm they were caught in.

When Jesus said “I AM the bread of life” his words harkened back to words God spoke to Moses, generations before. God called out to Moses from a burning bush, saying “Moses, Moses! And he [Moses] said “Here I am.” (Exodus 3:4) God went on to tell Moses God wanted Moses to free the Israelites from slavery. Moses asked

“If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘the God of your ancestors has    sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to    them?” God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ God said further, ‘thus you shall say to the Israelites, I AM has sent me to you” (Exodus 3:13-14).

“I AM WHO I AM.”
“I AM has sent me to you.”
“I AM the bread of life.”

We are all mere beggars showing other beggars where to find bread.

Henri Nouwen was a Roman Catholic priest who wrote in his book The Road to Daybreak “The gospel of John… was written for mature spiritual persons who do not want to argue about elementary issues, but who want to be introduced into the mysteries of divine life” (p. 58).
Here we have a mystery. What bread do we seek? Do we seek the bread of life?

To paraphrase Nouwen, again from The Road to Daybreak (p. 71):
There is a way of living, there is a way of praying, there is a way of being with people, there is a way of caring, there is a way of eating, there is a way of drinking, there is a way of sleeping, there is a way of reading, there is a way of writing in which Jesus truly is center.
Perhaps we should say, there is a way of begging wherein we seek that which we need to be our center, that which is Jesus.

We beg for the I AM.

In the night in which he was betrayed, our Lord Jesus took bread, and gave thanks; broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying: ‘Take and eat; this is my body, given for you… (Words of Institution, ELW p. 108).

This bread is ours.

This bread has been given for us and for all people.

The I AM is ours.

Finally, we reach the truth of the mystery:
There is no need to beg. God’s gift has been given to the world. God gave us Jesus. The bread of life. God gave us Jesus, who longs to be at the center of all we say, at the center of all we think, at the center of all we feel, at the center of all we do.

The I AM is ours. Given for us and for all people. Thanks be to God.
Amen.

The Tenth Sunday of Pentecost – Sunday, July 29, 2018

July 29, 2018  
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2 Kings 4:42-44
John 6:1-21

It’s a miracle!

Those are the words we use when something happens we can’t explain. It’s a miracle!

Today’s readings bring a series of miracles to our attention.
Elisha fed 100 people with several small loaves of bread and a few fish.
Jesus fed 5,000 people with even less: 5 loaves of bread and two fish.
Then Jesus walked on water.

Elisha was known for performing miracles: he cleaned poisoned water (2 Kings 2:22); he provided an endless stream of oil to a widowed woman who needed money to pay her creditors (she was able to sell the oil) (2 Kings 4:1-7); he raised a woman’s son from the dead (2 Kings 4:32-37); he purified a pot of poisonous stew (2 Kings 4:38-41).

All four gospels tell story after story of miracles Jesus performed. Healings. Exorcisms. Resurrection. Turning water into wine. Feeding crowds of people. Walking on water.

One might wonder, what’s the point of these miracle stories? What are the storytellers trying to tell us? What are the storytellers trying to give us?

Although miracle stories are dramatic in their own way, as one scholar wrote, they are also “mundane” (The New Interpreter’s Bible vol. 3, p. 191). What he was trying to say was that many of the miracles stories in the bible address every-day common needs.  For example, our need for food.

I am fortunate, just as some of you are. When we get hungry we go open the refrigerator and look at what there is to eat. Or we open a cupboard. Or we look in a pantry. Or we run to the nearest gas station or grocery store and buy what we need.

Not everyone in the world is so fortunate. Not everyone in this sanctuary is so fortunate.  When a person is hungry and has nothing to eat, what might seem mundane to one person becomes horribly real to the person who hungers. We know this even if we don’t KNOW this.

Miracles aren’t just miracles… they become stories of necessity.

When folks are hungry, really hungry they need to eat.
When folks are sick they need healing.
When someone owes money to someone else the debt needs to be paid.
Dirty water needs to be cleaned.

What I like most about the story of Elisha feeding 100 people and about the story of Jesus feeding 5,000 is a simple point that is often overlooked.

Both miracles occurred because, in each instance, one person had food that one person was willing to share.  In Elisha’s story, there wouldn’t have been bread there to share if one man hadn’t brought bread to Elisha as an offering. That one man’s bread fed 100 people. In the story of Jesus feeding 5,000, Jesus wouldn’t have been able to feed them if there hadn’t been one little boy who brought bread and fish and was willing to give it to the disciples to share with others.

It takes one person’s kindness for miracles to happen. One person!

Imagine what we all have the power to do, together!

God can and God does work miracles in and through us. God calls us to care. God calls us to share, and miracles happen.

It is a miracle every week that we have food to share, people to prepare, and people to assist us as we serve supper on Tuesday nights. More and more people are coming. This past week the line didn’t end for over 30 minutes. People just kept coming. We served 275 meals!

God provides. God works in and through us and God provides. There is hope. There are miracles. May our generosity continue to bring miracles to this community and to the world.

Amen.

The Ninth Sunday of Pentecost – Sunday, July 22, 2018

July 22, 2018  
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Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

In my first parish, there was a story folks used to tell about a visiting pastor. As the story goes, back in “the olden days” Sunday school was held in the church basement, where all of the young people would sit in rows of chairs and a teacher would teach them. At the time this story occurred, there were a couple hundred children enrolled in Sunday school at the church. The rows all of these children sat in faced the outer wall of the church, which was partially above ground. There were windows in the wall. In warm weather, all of the windows were open to let fresh air in.

The visiting pastor chewed tobacco. Folks said he always had a wad of chew in his cheek, even when teaching Sunday school. They said that, as he marched back and forth in front of the children teaching them, he would pause and spit his tobacco juice out of the basement window.

One particular Sunday, as the visiting pastor taught the children, he paused and spit his tobacco juice. What he didn’t realize until it was too late was—the window was shut. His tobacco spit hit the window and hung there, dripping!

***

Jesus sent the disciples out to teach, sending them two by two. In today’s reading, they had all just returned from their travels. They gathered around Jesus. They “told him all that they had done and taught” (Mark 6:30). He suggested they all go away to a deserted place to rest. They all hopped into a boat, to go and be by themselves.

The problem was, the crowds saw them leave. The crowds figured out where they were going and hurried on foot to get there ahead of the boat. When Jesus arrived, he saw a great crowd waiting for him.

Jesus could have resented the crowd. After all, Jesus deliberately took the disciples away; Jesus wanted them to be alone as a group. He wanted them to get some rest.
Jesus could have been irritated—but he wasn’t. Instead he had compassion for the people. He saw that they were “like sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34).
What did his compassion for the crowd lead him to do?

“He began to teach them” (Mark 6:34).

***

Our first reading today is from the book of Jeremiah. The prophet Jeremiah once said that God told him “I will give you a shepherd after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and with understanding” (Jeremiah 3:15).

Jesus, our Good Shepherd, feeds us with knowledge and with understanding.

***

We gather Sunday after Sunday, Wednesday after Wednesday, to hear the Word of God and to receive the sacrament. We gather to learn and to be fed. The Word of God is food for our souls. God’s Word comforts us. God’s Word challenges us. God’s Word sometimes brings discomfort—especially when it calls us out of ourselves, into action.

As Nikolai Grundtvig wrote:

God’s Word is our great heritage
and shall be ours forever,
to spread its light from age to age
shall be our chief endeavor.
Through life it guides our way;
in death it is our stay.
(ELW hymn # 509)

We receive the Word, as Christians have done throughout the Common Era—listening, studying, learning…
But remember, that’s only half the task. God calls us to take God’s Word from this place, into our daily lives. God calls us to share God’s Word of love. God calls us to share God’s Word of hope. God calls us to share God’s words of justice and peace.

God calls all of us to have compassion for others and to teach them, as Jesus taught.

Amen.

The Eighth Sunday of Pentecost – Sunday, July 15, 2018

July 15, 2018  
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Amos 7:7-15

Amos was a prophet.
He was a herdsman and a keeper of sycamore trees, but most important to us: Amos was a prophet.

Prophets were called “seers” because they were believed to be able to see
things other people could not. (The New Interpreter’s Bible vol. 7 p. 405).

According to our reading today, what God showed Amos was a plumb line.
That’s how most scholars define the Hebrew word ‘anak. They all admit the translation is murky, but keep using “plumb line” anyway, maybe because everybody else has.

I came across a scholar who believes ‘anak is being mistranslated. He believes this word, (which only appears four times in the Old Testament, all four being in today’s reading), is an Akkadian word for “tin.” He believes that word was used, not because God was going to build a wall of tin in Israel, but because the word sounds like the words ‘anah and ‘anaq. According to this scholar, both of those words mean “sigh.” Amos saw “lament” in the vision. God would build a wall of lament. (The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 7 p. 406-407).

With this in mind, our revised reading of Amos 7:8 would be

Then the Lord said “See, I am setting a sigh in the midst of my people Israel;
 I will never again pass them by”

Why is God sighing? As another scholar wrote “God’s primary role in this book is to be the judge and the executioner of those persons who have refused to obey divine standards of justice” (The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 7 p. 346).

The people of Israel were sinful. The people of Israel were disobedient. The people of Israel were rebellious. In other words, the people of Israel were like every other people of every other time and every other place. Their behavior was nothing new. What was new was what Amos “saw.” Amos saw God’s frustration, God’s impatience, God’s anger… God’s lament. According to Amos, God had had enough. God was going to punish the Israelites. They were going to lose their promised land. They were going to be exiled.

Most everywhere else in the Old Testament God was shown to be “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Exodus 34:6). Not in the book of Amos. The prophet Amos believed “God’s patience had finally run out” (The New Interpreter’s Bible vol. 7 p. 408).

Thank God, God is merciful.

We are fortunate. We know the rest of the story. We know God gave God’s only Son to the world to save us all from ourselves. We know the truth of God, that God is love.

When Jeanne and I were on vacation we spent the last few days of the vacation in Memphis with my oldest sister and her husband. My sister and her husband and I went to a Museum located in a house that was once a part of the Underground Railroad. I won’t ever forget what I experienced that morning.

The house was large for its time, but quite modest by modern day standards. It had been owned by a white businessman who converted his “basement” (nothing more than a root cellar) into a hiding place for escaped slaves as they journeyed north.

There were two large buses, each full of folks who were part of a tour group visiting the Memphis area. Our guided tour was with one of those groups. There were 30-some of us all crowded into the house’s small rooms, hearing stories of slavery and the slave market and physical abuse and hiding and fear and hope and trust and distrust. At the end of the tour we all sat in the living room, where there were rows of modest church benches. We heard our tour guide talk about the “secret code” built into the quilts people hung on their lines and into the lyrics of gospel songs.
“Swing Low.” Get down and run, run quickly.
“Sweet Chariot.” The railroad. The circuit of houses and farms.
“Coming for to carry me home.” Taking people who were thought of as property north, to freedom. To a land where people would be people, not possessions bought and sold and families divided.

The secret code was a language of love. A language of hope.

Then we sang.

My sister and her husband and I were three of only four or five white people in the room. There we all sat, singing. “Swing low, sweet chariot…” I will never forget.

There is no mistaking the fact that we live as sinful people, disobedience, rebellious. Like the Israelites, generation after generation our thoughts and our actions betray us.

Thank God, God is merciful. Thank God, we know the truth of God, that God is love. Created in the image of God, it is our calling to live lives of love. Created in the image of God, it is our moral obligation to love one another as God loves us.
Amen.

The Seventh Sunday of Pentecost – Sunday, July 8, 2018

July 8, 2018  
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Mark 6:1-13

This is an incredible story.
How disappointed must Jesus have been when he returned to the synagogue in his hometown, only to be rejected?

While with them in worship, Jesus told the people who would have been most familiar with him, the people in his hometown, that he was the fulfillment of the prophecy he had just read to them. Did they say “Yeah! We are so proud of you!”? No.
They took offense.

What was his response to their offense?
When his ministry was rejected by the people who knew him best, rather than let their rejection stop him, or slow him down

JESUS CHOSE TO EXPAND HIS MINISTRY.

Jesus continued his ministry in other communities.
Jesus sent his disciples out, two by two, to share the gospel with people in other places.
Nothing would stop him. He had a mission he needed to complete.  There was work to be done.

 

 

That is the way the gospel of Mark is written.
Brief, short stories pile up, one after the other, no wasted words. Mark had a story to tell, the story of Jesus Christ. Mark presents Jesus as a prophet, a healer, a teacher who went “immediately” from one place to another, in a hurry to prophecy, in a hurry to heal, in a hurry to teach.

You can see the busy-ness in the instructions Jesus gave to his disciples as he sent them on their way:
Take nothing with you except your staff, no bread, no bag, no money…
Wear sandals.
Don’t even bother with another tunic. Take only what you are wearing.
Stay in one house. Don’t try to find something better.
If they refuse to hear you, shake the dust off your feet and move on.

He doesn’t seem to want them to waste time, to waste energy, to waste resources. He wants them to get the job done, then move on.
They were all on a mission. Jesus wanted them to get on with it.

They were birthing the Church.

St. Paul wrote in his letter to the church in Corinth (a congregation he birthed) that God told him “power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Having heard those words from God, Paul wrote to the Corinthians “Whenever I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).

Paul speaks to us through those words. He is telling us:

 

 

You don’t have to have a Master of Divinity with Honors to tell people “Jesus loves you.” You don’t need to be a licensed electrician to let the light of God’s love shine. You don’t need a church building made of strong brick and mortar, with fancy sanctuary furniture and overhead screens to be in a place where people gather in God’s name.

“All we need is love.”

We need love. And determination. And devotion. And commitment. And hearts that are willing to both care and share.

When the light of Jesus shines through his followers, families are created, not torn apart.
When the light of Jesus shines through his followers, children are received with love and honor, not abused and neglected.
When the light of Jesus shines through his followers, people of different races join hands!
When the light of Jesus shines through his followers, people don’t point guns at each other, they hold out their arms in welcome, with hope and trust and respect and love.

This is what the Church is called to do in the time and in this place. We are called to shine the light of love that comes in and through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus loves us. Jesus loves the WORLD.

We need to be servants of that love. That is our mission.

Amen.

The Sixth Sunday of Pentecost – Sunday, July 1, 2018

July 1, 2018  
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Mark 5:21-43

A Girl Restored to Life and a Woman Healed

21 When Jesus had crossed again in the boat* to the other side, a great crowd gathered round him; and he was by the lake. 22Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23and begged him repeatedly, ‘My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.’ 24So he went with him.

And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. 25Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. 26She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28for she said, ‘If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.’ 29Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ 31And his disciples said to him, ‘You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, “Who touched me?” ’ 32He looked all round to see who had done it. 33But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’

35 While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, ‘Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?’ 36But overhearing* what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, ‘Do not fear, only believe.’ 37He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39When he had entered, he said to them, ‘Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.’ 40And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41He took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha cum’, which means, ‘Little girl, get up!’ 42And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

 

Their faith was full.
She, an un-named woman. He, named Jairus, one of the leaders of the synagogue.
Each of them faithful.
Examine the contrast:

  • The woman was un-named and had been bleeding for 12 years (making her ritually unclean). She had spent all she had to try to find a cure and yet was getting worse. She did not present herself to Jesus, she reached out to touch his cloak from behind. When he realized he had been touched and asked who touched him, she fell down before him in fear and trembling. Jesus said to her “Your faith has made you well” (Mark 5:34).
  • The man, whose name we know (Jairus), was a synagogue leader. He, too, fell at Jesus feet. There was no anonymity in what he did. He fell to his feet in front of Jesus and begged Jesus to come to his home to heal his daughter, who was close to death. Jairus KNEW Jesus had the power to heal.

A power-full man. A power-less woman.
Both believed in the power of Jesus Christ. Both, in their time of great distress, in their time of great need, knew Jesus would recognize their need and give them new life.

 

A year ago I began to serve this congregation as senior pastor. It was a year ago this week.
A year ago I was recovering from major surgery and anticipating 6 weeks of radiation treatments.

Those radiation treatments were one of the worst things that has ever happened to me, mostly because of the preparations I needed to do each day in order to receive them, the details of which of you really don’t want or need to know…

When I was receiving treatments I came to church every day to work for an hour or so, then I drove down the road to the cancer center at Gundersen. I sat in the waiting room, waiting for one of the technicians to come get me. They would ask how I was doing. I would answer. They would ask if I was ready and prepared for my treatment. The first week or so I was confident: yes, I’m ready. I’m prepared. Later on my confidence waned; “I think so” I would say. I’d get my gown on. They would ask me my name and birthdate. We’d all walk in the treatment room. I’d lay on my back on the metal table. They would adjust the machinery, using a laser beam to target the radiation. Then they would leave, walking through a thick metal door, closing the door, leaving me alone in the room with the machine that was designed to kill cells, any cells within the targeted area. Good and bad.

The plan was, the bad cells would die and be gone. The good cells would die and then, over time there would be re-growth and healing…

You might expect a pastor to pray while lying on a metal table receiving radiation. Sometimes I did have conversations with God as I laid there. More often my prayers were hymns I sang to myself, in my mind. Hymns I had selected for us to sing in worship or old favorites that just came to me, or parts of the liturgy.

Again, when the un-named woman told Jesus she had touched him Jesus said to her “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease” (Mark 5:34).

Her faith made her well. Jairus’ faith took him to fall at the feet of Jesus, who then walked home with Jairus and raised his daughter from the dead.
The two of them, such different people, were faith-full.

Not every faithful person who has been diagnosed with a disease and/or receives treatments survives their diagnosis and/or treatment. We know this.
That’s my struggle with this story. As faith-full as I am, I could have died last year.
I don’t believe my death would have meant my faith was less than full.
Nor do I believe God has a plan for me that brought me through my illness.

I believe genetics has an imprint on our health and well-being. I believe the way we live affects the way we die. I believe in science and am profoundly grateful for the knowledge my medical providers had and have that they share with me and with others as they care for us.

And I believe in God, the maker of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus, God’s Son, who came to the world to save us all from sin and death. I believe in the Holy Spirit, who is present right now, in this moment, giving us each strength and hope and new life.

Because I believe in God, Creator, Savior, and Spirit—I believe, as St. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, that

Death has been swallowed up in victory (1 Corinthians 15:54).

I believe God

Will swallow up death forever, and that God will wipe away the tears from    all faces (Isaiah 25:7-8)

Because I believe in God, Creator, Savior, and Spirit—I give thanks to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:57).
Whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. When we die we are the Lord’s. We are the Lord’s. In this moment we are the Lord’s. When we receive bad news or good news from our health care providers, we are the Lord’s. Whether our faith feels full to us or our faith feels weak, feels empty, we are the Lord’s.

As followers of Jesus Christ, as children of God we are claimed. As followers of Jesus Christ, as children of God we are loved. As followers of Jesus Christ, as children of God we are sustained. As followers of Jesus Christ, as children of God we are strengthened. As followers of Jesus Christ, as children of God we are given hope. The hope we have is for this life and for the next.

This I believe.

Amen.

The Second Sunday of Pentecost – Sunday, June 3, 2018

June 3, 2018  
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Mark 2:23-3:6

“Shabbot Shalom.”
Peaceful Sabbath.
“Shabbot Shalom” is a traditional Sabbath greeting for Jewish people. They are wishing each other a peaceful Sabbath; they are wishing each other the peace that the Sabbath brings…

Since today is our Sabbath, Shabbot Shalom to you…
May you have a peaceful Sabbath. May this Sabbath day bring you peace.

I discovered that “In ancient Babylonia a particular day of distinctive character was known as sabbattu… It was designated specifically as the ‘day of quieting of the heart’” Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible vol. 4, “Sabbath” p. 135). And yet, scholars don’t believe the origins of the Hebrew Sabbath lie in Babylon. They point to Canaanite culture, specifically to the Canaanite agricultural civilization that preceded the Babylonian practice of sabbatu. The “primitive” calendar used by the Canaanites revolved around the cycles of planting, ripening, harvesting, and then using crops (IDB “Sabbath” p. 135). These cycles lasted 50 days (7 weeks of 7 days, then 1 Sabbath day, or sabbatu as the Babylonians later referred to it).

Shabbot Shalom.
Peaceful Sabbath.
The day we quiet our hearts.

In our gospel reading for this day the Pharisees have missed the point of Shabbot Shalom. The Pharisees, who were men of faith, focused on Sabbath laws. Folks were not supposed to engage in any physical labors on the Sabbath. Folks were forbidden to engage in a list of specific activities.

According to the story, Jesus’ disciples had begun to pick heads of grain, presumably to eat. The Pharisees asked Jesus: Why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath? (Mark 2:24).
Later the same day, upon entering the synagogue, Jesus encountered a man with a withered hand. The Pharisees watched to see if Jesus would heal the man, breaking Sabbath law (Mark 3:1-2).

Frustrated, Jesus asked “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” (Mark 3:4).

Shabbot Shalom explains the meaning of the question Jesus asked. He was asking why the Sabbath existed. Why have a day set aside for quieting our hearts? Did/does the Sabbath exist to be used as a tool for doing harm, as a legal cudgel people use to metaphorically beat each other over the head? Or was/is the Sabbath a day provided to us as a chance, as an opportunity to save life, to give life, to heal, to quiet our hearts?

Our world, our society, our communities, our individual lives all desperately need Shabbot Shalom. We need the peace that the Sabbath brings. We need Sabbath peace in our hearts, Sabbath peace in our relationships, Sabbath peace in our conversations, Sabbath peace in the words we use, Sabbath peace in the ways we interact with each other and the world.
We need to do those things that bring life to the world, things that are life-giving, rather than focus on those things that either literally or figuratively kill.

Shabbot Shalom.

On the cover of our bulletin you see a photo I took of my mom and my dad at church. We were attending the funeral of a friend my mom and dad have known for over 50 years. Her daughter is one of my oldest friends. As we sat there in worship at the church I grew up in and my parents still attend, my mom reached out her hand and held my father’s. It was a moment, a memory, an image I wanted to hold on to forever so I snapped a quick photo.
The image is loving. The image is life-giving. The image is how I picture Shabbat Shalom. I picture two elderly people who have made it their life’s practice to honor the Sabbath and keep it holy. I picture two elderly people who literally and figuratively brought life into the world, together.

A young woman wrote online about Shabbat Shalom:

“Shalom gives wholeness – it’s as if to say to the passerby, “I wish the peace of God upon you that makes you whole.” It is an extraordinary thing that the peace of God, found in Sabbath rest, can be so renewing and restoring to our weariness and brokenness. Even more, Sabbath Shalom gives us the kind of peace that allows God to meet us and do the kind of work in and through us that [God] so desires” (Emily Bullbach, “Sabbath Shalom” 2/18/17 allsoulsboulder.org).

May this Sabbath day give you “the kind of peace that allows God to meet [you] and do the kind of work in and through [you] that [God] so desires” (Bullbach).

Amen.

Trinity Sunday – Sunday, May 27, 2018

May 27, 2018  
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Isaiah 6:1-8

We believe God is the creator of all. We in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America are, therefore, one with humankind made in the image of God, and one with the whole creation.

We believe God is the Word embodied in Jesus Christ who unites us through baptism with all Christians in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. As Lutherans, we are united in our confession that we are justified by grace through faith in Jesus Christ and liberated to serve God’s whole creation, seeking peace and justice.

We believe that God the Holy Spirit is always at work, transforming and inspiring new ways of living in this world toward God’s promised, beloved, eternal community.

Grounded in this understanding of the Triune God, we believe God’s intention for humanity is abundant life for all.

So begins the ELCA’s “Draft of a Social Statement on Women and Justice.” I can’t think of a better way to begin a sermon on the trinity, a better way to focus on what it means for us as Christians, and then on another level what it means for us as Lutherans, to believe in a triune God.

We believe in God as our creator, God the Word embodied in Jesus Christ who unifies us, justifies us through faith, and liberates us to serve. We believe in God the Holy Spirit who is always at work, transforming and inspiring news of living.

This is our God, three in one and one in three. This is our God.

Worshiping a triune God is, perhaps, one of the most difficult subjects to preach and to teach—worshiping a triune God challenges reason and logic. Believing in God as Creator and Savior and Holy Spirit—when I taught World Religions at Western this was one of the things students always lifted up in their critiques of Christianity: the concept is simply too complex.

Which is why the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther said, in his sermon on Trinity Sunday, that Christians need to “Renounce your reason and close your eyes; cling only to [The] Word and believe it” (Sermons of Martin Luther, vol. 3, p. 413).

When we cling to the Word we are clinging to Christ. When we cling to the Word we believe in Christ’s power to save us. When we cling to the Word we cling to Jesus, who was with God in the beginning and who was God (John 1:1). When we cling to the Word we cling to Jesus who told us “When the Spirit of truth comes, [the Spirit] will guide you into all truth… and [the Spirit] will glorify me, because [the Spirit] will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 15:13-14).

When we cling to the Word we can be imitators of the prophet Isaiah.

In our first reading today, the prophet wrote of a vision he had. Isaiah said he saw a vision of God on a throne. Isaiah said he saw angels surrounding the throne, he heard angels singing to God and to one another, singing words similar to those we sang this morning, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God almighty…” (Isaiah 6:3). Isaiah said (to himself? To God?) “Woe is me… I am lost… I am a man of unclean lips… I live among a people of unclean lips… Yet my eyes have seen the king… (Isaiah 6:5).

Just like Isaiah, we were a lost people. We were unclean. But then Jesus came to the world, a gift of God, a gift of God’s SELF! When Jesus came to the world all of humanity saw our Sovereign God made human. And the world was saved.

In his vision, after an angel touched Isaiah’s lips with a burning coal and told Isaiah “Your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out” (Isaiah 6:7).

And then…God spoke to Isaiah, asking “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” (Isaiah 6:8a). And Isaiah answered God: “Here am I; send me!” (Isaiah 6:8b).

Now it is our turn.

God continues to speak to us. God continues to ask “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?”

Our answer is “me.” Our answer is “we.” Send me. We will go.

God created the world, making the world good. God came to the world embodied in Jesus Christ, saving the world and calling is forward to seek justice and peace. God the Holy Spirit continues to work in us and through us, finding new ways to inspire us.

As children of God, may we be inspired to bring abundant life to all, as God intends.

Amen.

Day of Pentecost – Sunday, May 20, 2018

May 20, 2018  
Filed under Sermons

Happy birthday Church of Christ!

Today is Pentecost, the Day of Pentecost, the day the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles and followers of Jesus who were in Jerusalem. The Spirit empowered them. The Spirit filled them. The Spirit enabled them to speak to strangers in the Strangers’ languages. It was a powerful day. A day of new beginnings.

The festival of Pentecost actually began long before.

It is written in Psalm 104 You send forth your Spirit and they are created; and so you renew the face of the earth.

The Spirit of God, present in the moments of creation has been and is and will be present with us, always. The Spirit joins with God the Creator, continually creating. The Spirit of God enlivens us and our world.

We are Pentecost people! As Pentecost people we celebrate the gift of life the Spirit of God continually blows across the world’s surface, into every person’s heart. The Spirit frees us…

The festival of Pentecost was a Jewish festival long before it became the birthday of the Church. Jewish tradition suggest that, as they fled slavery, it took the Hebrew people 50 days to travel from Egypt to Mt. Sanai. After arriving at Mt. Sanai, tradition states the Hebrews waited another 50 days to receive the ten commandments from God. Pentecost was a Hebrew festival celebration of those two 50 day periods.

Freed from slavery, God was once again sovereign in the lives of the Hebrews. Bound by new laws, God was known as God and as a mighty Ruler.

Pentecost was a day of Promise for the Hebrews. Prophets like the prophet Joel spoke of the Promised Day of the Lord, anticipating a day of judgment. Joel believed God said

I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and daughters will prophecy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even upon the menservants and maidservants in those days, I will pour out my spirit.

Prior to Joel’s prophecy it was believed that the Spirit of God had only been given to select people, important people: judges, kings, prophets. Even then, the Spirit of God was fickle. The Spirit visited some and then left, for example,. King Saul. When King David was anointed, the Spirit was silent. The Spirit filled Samson, then left him, then returned.

Then Joel spoke, saying I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh.

The Spirit would fill sons and daughters, men servants and maids. The Spirit would not discriminate.

And then it happened in Jerusalem!

When the Spirit came all the apostles were filled, all of them began speaking in other languages. All of the crowd gathered for the Hebrew festival hear other languages spoken, each of them understanding the stories of God’s mighty deeds because the stories were told in their own languages.

There was a mighty wind.

Tongues of fire rested on each person.

Everyone was bewildered, they were amazed, they wondered at what they saw.

They saw Joel’s prophecy fulfilled.

The Pentecost events was a fulfillment of God’s promise.

The Church of Christ was born.

Just as God’s Spirit freed God’s people to speak, the Spirit frees us to speak, now. The Spirit renews us. The Spirit touches us.

Each and every day God touches our lives with a spiritual, re-creative power. God gives us the power to wake each day, baptized, forgiven and renewed, loved and full of life. Full of God’s Spirited life!

May the love God gives us each and every day, and the life God renews in us each and every day empower our dreams. May we have visions for the future. May our dreams and visions be rooted in the love of Jesus our Christ, to whom the Spirit always gives glory.

We celebrate the glory of God today.

We celebrate the glory of God made known in Jesus Christ, shown to us by the power of the Spirit.

The power of the Spirit birthed a Church, The Church to which this church belongs.

We celebrate the Church’s birthday today.

We celebrate the new life we each have been and are given.

Thanks be to God!

Amen.

Seventh Sunday of Easter – Sunday, May 13, 2018

May 13, 2018  
Filed under Sermons

John 17:6-19

I accused my spouse, Jeanne of eaves-dropping this past week. I was talking to myself and she was listening in. When she asked a question about what I said I told her she shouldn’t eavesdrop. Then later, when I got to work I went downstairs to talk to Jessica, our Associate Lay Minister. As I turned the corner into her office, I found her sitting at her desk, reading something off the computer to herself, out loud. Suddenly I was the one eaves-dropping.

I have the same exact reaction to today’s gospel reading. I am both a little embarrassed and a lot excited that we’re over-hearing a conversation between Jesus and God, a conversation the disciples are present for and hear… an intimate exchange that is full of love and trust and confidence and concern.

Jesus was having his last meal with his disciples prior to his arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection. Jesus knew what was about to happen. Jesus gave himself freely over to what was about to happen. But, there were a few things he needed to say to God first—things he clearly wanted to say in the presence of his beloved disciples.

Usually scholars refer to the disciple John, who wrote this gospel, as the beloved disciple, because that’s how he refers to himself. I’m saying they were all beloved. You can see the love and intimacy in this pray Jesus prays. Which is why I feel a little awkward reading the prayer, hearing the prayer. Jesus loved them so much.

“They were yours and you gave them to me” (John 17:6)

The disciples were a precious, beloved gift God gave Jesus.

“They have kept your word” (John 17:6)

Jesus had such confidence in them!

“the words you have given to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they believed that you sent me” (John 17:7-8)

None of the other gospels present the disciples this way: with deep love and trust. Jesus understood the disciples were given to him as a gift.

“All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them” (John 17:10)

Jesus was saying to God, you entrusted me with the disciples and look how they have shined your light to the world! The world sees my glory in and through them! Already! We can trust them! They are ready.

And yet… and yet…

Jesus knows he is leaving his beloved disciples. He prays to God, asking for their protection.

“Holy Father protect them… so that they may be one as we are one” (John 17:11)

“Sanctify them…” (John 17:17)

Jesus knows the holiness of God. “To be holy is to be set apart” (The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 9, p. 792).

“This address to God is particularly appropriate… because the intercessions that follow include Jesus’ request that God ‘sanctify,’ ‘make holy’ the disciples” (TNIB, vol. 9, p. 792).

Jesus asks that the disciples be set apart, that the disciples be delegated for a special task; I believe Jesus believed the disciples were “called” to do God’s holy, sacred work.

We are Jesus’ disciples.

Like those who lived with Jesus in his time and in his space, we are called to do God’s holy, sacred work.

Jesus is glorified in all we say and do.

Last year one of my nephews brought his family to my installation. Later, as he described Our Savior’s to his sister (who was unable to attend) he said “They focus their ministry on the community.”

We do. This is our call, to glorify Jesus in the services we offer others. Whether our ministry is to give a pantsuit from the Clothes Closet to a woman to wear as she looks for work, or our ministry is to give a gas voucher to a low-income person who needs to get to work, or our ministry is to provide a free meal and food to take home, or our ministry is to welcome every person who comes through our doors and to live a message of love to those who might be too afraid to come… we do look outward. As it should be.

Today let’s remind ourselves as we do these things:

*we are beloved disciples

*Jesus loves us for who we are and how we bring glory to him

*our work is holy

*we do what we do to bring glory to God, not to ourselves or each other

In this prayer that is our gospel reading today, that we are blessed to overhear, Jesus prayed

As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them” (John 17:18)

We’ve got work to do.

May we serve God knowing God protects us, and loves us, and trusts us, and take pride in all we say and do in God’s name.

Amen.

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